Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Writing Mindfully

It always surprises me how many lessons you learn at one job "translate" successfully to other areas of endeavor. And how often your parents really are right. :) Long, long ago (in a galaxy not that far away) my mother told me that it was important to set goals. All fine and well, but like a lot of other people, I found it hard to set goals when I didn't really know what I wanted or wanted to accomplish. So I sort of ignored that advice.

Then, as I got a "real job" (as opposed to my fiddling around with writing for one or two lifetimes) I was able to translate Mom's advice into something useful to me. I didn't set goals so much as figure out what I needed to accomplish. It sounds like a trivial difference, but it was an important difference to me. You see, "goals" felt like hard things that I probably couldn't accomplish while saying "this is just something I need to get done"  felt much more do-able.

And so life went on with some successes, some failures, and a lot of "what the heck am I doing" moments. Then, about 15 years ago, I seriously started writing again. I'd piddled with it off and on, but I finally realized that if I ever wanted to be a writer, then I needed to put on my big girl panties and get down to work.

My first few, aw heck, first FIVE manuscripts were a mess. I thought you could just write and your brain would work it all out and you'd create a masterpiece. Sure, I did some elementary plotting and kept track of character names and bios--all the usual stuff--but I didn't think too much about the whole thing. I just wrote. Which was fine as an exercise, but after a few more disastrous manuscripts, the metaphorical light bulb went off. I needed to decide what I wanted to get done.

That simple decision is what makes the difference between a manuscript that is, quite simply, a mess and one that is a real story fit for an audience. And it's not just figuring out the plot, although that is part of it.

Before I forget, let me digress for a moment and mention that I believe this is true whether you are a "plotter" or a "pantster." What are plotters and pantsters? Writers who either create meticulous outlines of their plots before they write (plotters) or writers who just sit down and...write by the seat of their pants (pantsters). I happen to be an unholy alliance of the two. I sort of plot but then halfway through, the characters have revolted, taken over the plot, and all bets are off.

Anyway, so what the heck do I really mean by "decide what needs to get done?"

You need to decide what you are writing. That sounds simple, but it's really not. Let's say you know in a broad way that you want to write mysteries. Okay, that's part of it. But you also have to decide if you want the story to be dark and gritty or light and humorous. Atmospheric or well, whatever the opposite of atmospheric might be. What feelings are you trying to dredge up out of the depths of the reader's psyche?

That goes for each scene, too. As you are writing, you need to keep an eye on what you are trying to do with that scene, and hopefully it will serve multiple purposes. Maybe you need to drop a specific clue for a mystery and you also need to reveal some critical aspect of your hero's personality and push the plot forward. Add a twist. Whatever.

For pantsters, the "does this serve my purpose?" evaluation may come later, but it's still critical. If you don't know what emotions you were trying to evoke or what the scene needed to accomplish as far as plot and characterization, then how do you know if the scene is successful? If you should keep it or cut it? Sadly, many of my scenes--usually the "best" ones in terms of snappy dialog--wind up terminated with extreme prejudice because they don't accomplish what they needed to in order to drive the story forward. It kills me to delete them, is what it is.

Every element in a book: plot, characterization, dialog, setting, descriptions, etc, must be there for a reason for a story to be successful.

So that's my thought for today on writing. I'm still working on perfecting my craft--my reach always exceeds my grasp. Or to put it another way: a wise man is one who realizes that it is not what he knows that makes him wise, it is the recognition of how much he doesn't know that makes him wise. (I must be very, very wise at this point because I feel like I don't know anything.)

For the incurably curious

I'm working on the edits for my next contemporary cozy mystery and I hope to send it to my editor at Five Star soon. Maybe even by the end of August! I can't quite decide on a title, though. I am terrible with titles, but I'm thinking along the lines of "The Missing Body." Who knows. I just hope she likes it and Five Star is willing to pick it up.

Very soon (within the next few weeks, in fact) the next Pru and Knighton mystery will be out: The Dead
Man's View. My wonderfully talented cover artist is working on the cover and I can't wait to release it early in August. I've got another Pru and Knighton mystery up my sleeve, A Honeymoon with Death, where Pru is once more dragged into a mystery during her honeymoon in Europe with Knighton. Pru and Knighton are asked to debunk a haunting, only to stumble into murder instead. I can't wait to get to it, but I've already started another Second Sons Inquiry Agency mystery featuring a new inquiry agent, an embittered Napoleonic war veteran, who is requested to investigate the murder of an earl in The Illusion of Desire. I've gotten the first five chapters written and I hope to finish that during the winter.

Oh, and did I mention that I have a new cover for Pru and Knighton's first book, The Vital Principle? My cover artist (Amber Shah) did a great job and I'll be re-releasing that book with the new cover at the end of the month.

Finally, I'm trying something a little different and will probably have it published under a slightly different pen name as it is a contemporary crime/horror story about revenge. In fact, it's called Revenge. It's crime, black humor, and a bit of paranormal horror all rolled into one biting manuscript. Because it has some dark moments, I'm thinking it may be too dark for the traditional Amy Corwin fans, hence my thought that maybe another pseudonym may be in order. I used to be totally against multiple names for one author because I figured readers were smart enough to read the blurbs and know if the book was something they wanted to read or not, but then I realized the usefulness if you happen to write different genres. It makes it a lot easier for folks to know that if they buy an "Amy Corwin" there won't be a lot of explicit, well, stuff, in them, with the exception of my series of paranormal romances like A Fall of Silver which have a few love scenes.

I've got a lot more "on the burner" as far as writing and I hope that later this summer, the fruits of all my labors will finally be available.
Enjoy and Happy Reading!

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